SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Where do most students get information about space science topics? An informal survey of 300 University of California, Los Angeles freshmen indicates that Wikipedia is their first stop when researching essentially any topic. One third of student pre-service science teachers in a Boston University natural sciences course cited Wikipedia as a reference in their class reports on planetary exploration. A survey of Google® Web-page rankings of 20 major topics in space physics (including aurora, space weather, solar wind, etc.) found that the Wikipedia entry was on the first page for 16, was in the top three for 11, and was the highest-ranked site for six topics (magnetic reconnection, solar variation, Van Allen Radiation Belts, ionosphere, sudden ionospheric disturbance, and magnetometer).

The purpose of this note is to inform the community of the popularity of Wikipedia for introducing our field to students and the general public and to urge you to take a look at the Wikipedia entry for your area of expertise. Wikipedia articles are by nature encyclopedic and so provide students with an apparently complete source of material for use in reports and research projects. The question is, How good is the Wikipedia article compared with other top Google sites with regard to completeness and accuracy? We found that for many of the space physics key terms and concepts, Wikipedia was the most complete source of information. For many of the other top sites, basic information such as definition of the phenomena and fundamental properties (for example, average properties of the solar wind such as composition, speed, density, etc.), as well as science history and relevance of the topic to broader concepts, were either missing or difficult to find. Often the other top links focus so closely on details of a scientific study that the novice reader may not be able to understand much about the topic or concept they were originally searching for from that Web site. Thus, compared with many of the top Google hits, Wikipedia will appear to students to be an excellent reference for space science topics.